Recollections of John Pounds: I meet John Pounds by Reverend Henry Hawkes
“Well, Mr. Pounds, here you are.” “Yes, here I bes.” “Busy as usual.” “Yes I’ve always something to do.” “I’ve brought our new Minister to see you.” The old man deliberately raised his head from his work, and said. “Yer sarvant Sir:” – and fixed his large eye full upon mine, with a penetration, that at once I felt. – There’s strength of character there. “I’m glad to be introduced to you, Mr. Pounds;” I replied.
“I’se have a good friend,” he said, “in Dr. Scott, I has. And so’s many another. Once when I want some Bibles and Testaments for my poor little things to read out of; thinks I, I’se go to Mr….; he’s a clergyman; he’s give me some Bibles and Testaments for ’em.
So I does to Mr…..; and I asks him if he’s give me some Bibles and Testaments for my poor little things to read out of. But he says to me; ‘I’se tell you what it is, my man; I’se no Bibles and Testaments to give away; but let your scholars bring their halfpennies and pennies; I’se let ’em have a Bible or a Testament.’
Poor things! And where’s they to get their halfpennies and pennies to take to him? They’s no halfpennies and pennies. No – and so I says to myself; I’se go to Dr. Scott; he’s a good man; he’s give me some Bibles and Testaments for your scholars.’ And he goes up-stairs, and he brings me down his arm-full o’ Bibles and Testaments.
And here’s some other little books,’ he says, ‘for your scholars to read out of, and larn their verses from. And when they’s worn out, come again, Mr. Pounds; and I’se give you some more.’ God bless him! We’s all miss him very much. You’s like to hear; em read a bit.” “If you please.”
“Here, you rascall wi’ the curly wig! Come and show the gentleman what you’s a-doing.” And a fine intelligent little boy brought a bit of broken slate, with a long-division sum on it. The slate was clean, and the figures were well formed, and the sum, as far as he had gone in it, was correct. “Here’s a sum that there rascal in the corner’s ben an’ done;” handing his slate to me. “The wagabond! He can do ’em when he likes.” It was a double rule of three sum; done correctly; the figures neat and clear.
“Here Lizzie, come and read for the gentleman.” And a nice little girl, with clean bright face, and neatly dressed, evidently well taken care of at home, came and climbed up the old man’s knee, and put her little white arm round his dark rough neck, and he gave her a kiss, and she looked very happy. A cat came with her, brushing against his leathern apron, as if pleased with all that was going on.
“Now, Lizzy, here’s the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew; it’s what our saviour’s saying to the multitude, as he sits on the mountain side.” And she read the chapter through with a clear pleasant voice, and with scarcely any hesitations, and as if she felt it.
All the other children were still, and listening, as if they were interested in what she was reading. “That ‘ill do, Lizzy.” And he gave her another kiss. “Now go to puss and the young birds in the corner.” and she jumped off his knee merrily; and puss went with her to the basket and the young birds in the farther corner.
“That’s my cat, Sir. There’s ne’er another cat in all the neighbourhood round can come upto my cat, She’s a nestling my young birds for me. She takes to ’em and brings ’em up as if they’s her own kittens. And she’s not let any other cat or dog come near ’em.
One day a butcher’s lad comes by, and sees my cat driving a big dot away from the door. ‘You’s a fine cat there, Master,’ he says. ‘Yes’ I says; ‘she brings up my young birds for me; and she’s not let ne’er another cat or dog come near ’em. ‘I’se a big bull dog at home,’ he says; she’s make nothing of him.’ ‘you’s best not try’, I says, ‘You’s best not,’ I says; ‘I’se not be answerable for the consequences.’ But he goes off, and brings his big bull dog. Just before he gets to my door, he spirits it up-like, all keen and eager. And just as he comes to my open door; – there ‘There ’tis!’ – he says; – ‘In with y’!’
An just as his big bull-dog’s a plunging in all among my poor little things – they’s all so frightened, – poor things ! , and begins a-clawing back of his head. Dog turns up his mouth to bite at her. My cat strikes her claw into his eye. Dog ducks down his head, an turns up t’other side to bite at her. My cat strikes her claw into that eye.
Dog bobs down his head again. An so they goes on; till dog bolts down street, with my cat on his back. Poor thing! By the time they gets to the sally port; – if he isn’t blind o’ both eyes. But it’s all the lad’s fault. He didn’t ought to do it. He’s not do it again in a hurry,
“What’s that you got in your hand, Polly?” And a very little girl on the floor beside Lizzie and puss said, “A buttercup, Mr Pounds.” “Buttercup? Bring it to me, Polly, and let’s look at it,” And the little girl brought it to him, and he lifted her up on his knee, and gave her a kiss. “Spell butter, Polly.” And the child spelt butter.
“What’s colour’s butter, Polly ?” “Yellow, Mr Pounds.” “Spell yellow” And the child, with a little help from the master, spelt yellow. “And this flower’s yellow, like butter. Now spell cup.” “Kup.” “No, Polly; – Cup. They doesn’t know, Sir, how C spells like K. Now mind that Polly; c – u – p, cup. And now look down into the flower; It looks like a cup; doesn’t it Polly ?” “Yes, Mr Pounds” “And so they calls it a butter cup. Where’s you get it, Polly ?” “ On the walls. And there’s daisies too.” “Buttercups and daisies! Who makes the buttercups and daisies, Polly?” “God; Mr Pounds.”
“And God takes care of ’em in the dark night, and when the storm blows hard. And when the storms over and gone, and when the sun shines out bright again, there’s the pretty buttercups and daisies again, all so bright and pleasant for us to look upon.
Isn’t it very kind of God, to make so many nice things for us?” “Yes, Mr Pounds.” “Red Roses, and white roses, that grows in hedges, and smells so sweet’ and cowslips and primroses; and the pretty birds singing all day long so merrily, to make us glad. There’s no end to all the god things that God’s always doing for us. And we’s love him, Polly.”
“Yes; mother says so.” “And we’s try and do what ‘ill please him, Polly.” And the old man gave her a kiss. “There, go to Lizzie and puss and the little birds in the basket.” and he lifted her lovingly off his knee; and the little thing went happily to Lizzie and puss and the young birds in the basket.
All the other children had been listening, very still, to what Mr Pounds was saying to Polly. As soon as it was over, there was a sudden buzz of many voices: – “I’se go and get him some buttercups at twelve!” – “And I’se get him some daisies; there’s lots on the common! – I knows a bank where some woilots grows, I’se go and get him some o’ they; I’se soon be back again; it’s only three miles off.”
“What’s y’all a-talking about so busy?” “Flowers, Mr Pounds!” – a lively little voice said, full of confidence and fun. “Flowers; spell flowers,” And the boy spelt flowers, “Well, there’s time for flowers, and a time for work;” the old man said cheerfully. “Now to work again.” And they all settled down to their lessons again, well pleased and happy.
“Billy come and say your pretty verses: – How doth the little busy bee.” And a rosy-cheeked little boy, not more than three or four years old, came eagerly pushing head foremost through the crowd, and took his stand beside the old man; scarcely higher than his knee; – and looked up at him with a loving smile; and repeated without hesitation, and as if he felt and like them, those favourite verses of Dr Watts’s, beginning,
How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!
All the children seemed fond of them, and listened with bright countenances, as if they could never hear them too often. “You’s be a busy bee, Billy !” “Yes Mr Pounds” “Not a lazy chap; good for nothing.” And the old man took the child fondly up in his arms, and kissed him.
“There, Billy; that ‘ill do till next time.” And the little fellow was soon out of sight among the crowd of taller boys.
“Can’t ye be quiet there, you wagabonds on the stairs ? I’se be at ye, if you’s not mind;” – turning with a sharp look at two biggish lads, full of their fun. The lads were still in a moment; not as if unwillingly; but looking at their old master with love and reverence; and then slyly looking at one another, with a good natured smile; as if they felt the rebuke was just, and kindly meant. “They’s no evil intent in ’em, Sir; they rascals; but I’se forced to keep ’em under a bit sometimes. They knows it’s all for their good.
“Dick Saunders” and one of the taller boys came and stood beside him. “Harry Jenner;” and another came; apparently about the same age. “Tom Richmond:” and a little fellow came, and stood with them; younger, and much shorter than the others; but full of life and intelligence.
“thinks I, one day, Sir, along time agone, they lads as I’se a-larning ’em their sums, they’s not always have their slates with ’em ready like – when they goes into business; so, thinks I, I’se puts their slates in their heads for ’em’” – with a comical smile and tone; and the boys smiled, as if they understood his meaning and appreciated it: – “and then they’s always have ’em with ’em ready ! Now lads!” And they were all attention.
“Answer first as can; and him as blunders, t’others set him right. Quick, lads!” He then began to ask them questions in arithmetic: first, in addition; beginning with easy questions; which made the boys smile as they answered, as if it was playwork. But he soon went up to larger and larger amounts; which all three answered instantly, and correctly; till he came to numbers so large and somewhat complicated, that I was astonished that in every instance one or other answered every question right; and very rarely was any one of them at a loss.
“Now for subtraction.” And he began as before with rather simple questions; which the lads seemed to think too easy. But he gradually went on to more difficult; and almost all of them they all three answered readily. “And now, Sir,” he said, turning to me, “you’s please an ask ’em any questions you likes out o’ the multiplication table.”
“With pleasure, Mr Pounds,” And I began as he had begun with rather easy questions; and the lads smiled as they answered. But I gradually went on to higher numbers; and finding that they all three answered every question quickly and correctly, I tried them with what seemed to me the most difficult questions in the table; but they answered them all instantly, and without a blunder. “Now we’s have some division sums; long and short divisions mixed like.”
“Thank you Mr Pounds,” Mr…..said; “I think we must be going now.” And I very cordially thanked him, and said: “I have been very much interested, Mr Pounds; and I hope to have the pleasure of seeing you again soon.”
“Yes, I’se be at Church o’ Sunday. I’se always there of an evening. Ye sees, Sir, my Neffy’s a journeyman shoemaker. And a good, steady, industrious lad he is; though I says it. And there’s only day in a week that he’s have a comfortable dinner like; and that’s o’ Sunday. So I stops at home of Sunday mornings to cook my Neffy his dinner: poor lad!
But I’se always go to Church o’ Sunday evening; and some o’ my little wagabonds wi’ me; – them as likes. No; I never forces ’em to go to Church. No; I says to ’em o’ Saturday; Now, all you as likes to go wi’ me to Church to-morrow, I’se give ’em a half-holiday o’Monday.
So there’s always some as likes to go wi’ me to Church o’ Sunday. Poor things ! There’s some on ’em’s no clothes fit to go in. So I keeps some bettermost sort o’ clothes here in my shop for ’em’ fit to be seen in o’ Sundays. And they comes here, and puts ’em on in my shop; and goes wi’ me to Church; and looks like other folks’ respectable like. And then, after Church, they comes back wi’ me, and takes ’em off again in my shop; and I takes care of ’em again, ready for ’em next Sunday.”
“Thank you, Mr Pounds! Good morning.”
“Here, you rascal on the steps there! Come and spell a bit for the gentleman before he goes. And a rough looking chubby lad, with a borad laughing face, and a plentiful head of hair, came to him. “What’s this?” the old man said, graspoing a hand full of the lad’s hair. “My wig!” – with a touch of fund, and wincing.
“My wig? – ye rascal! – Spell wig.” The boy seemed at a loss, and stood silent “That W, Sir’s a hard letter to larn ’em to spell with. They’s a long time coming to it. W-i-g, lad.” And the lad spelt wig; with a roguish look.
“What’s I give you then? The old man said, as roguishly; givign the lad a smart blow on the shoulder; and all the school laughed out heartily. “You gives me a blow, Mr Pounds” “Spell blow.” And the boy spelt blow. “Where’s I give it you?” “O’ my shoulder.” “Spell shoulder.” The lad tried, and blundered. “Try again, lad.” And he tried again; and so, several times. At last he succeeded, with some help from the master. “There! Go along with y’;” giving him a good natured push. “And mind, lad; you’s always lay a good shoulder to the wheel; – all your life, lad.”